Cover girlThursday, July 09, 2020
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
JAMAICAN model Althea Laing has another reason to celebrate. Her second cover for American black beauty magazine Essence has been named one of the top covers of the 1990s as the publishers of the magazine celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Laing graced the cover of the popular glossy for a second time for the August 1990 issue, becoming the first Jamaican model to be featured on the cover of an international magazine. She made her debut as a cover girl in September 1985.
“This is just amazing. It shows what God can do,” she told the Jamaica Observer during an interview from her home in central Jamaica.
“When I think about all the things that happened to me during the time when this cover came out and to see it still being recognised 30 years later feels like the gift that keeps giving,” she added.
Laing explained that at the time her work visa had expired and she had been back in Jamaica for about a year while she sought a renewal of this work permit. She shared that it was a personal meeting with then Prime Minister Edward Seaga at Jamaica House that got the ball rolling for her to re-enter the United States.
“Once I got back to New York, I got the call from Essence saying they wanted me for a cover shoot. I had already done the cover for Essence back in '85 so I had built a relationship with the magazine doing tear sheets. So it was like a family for me at Essence. There were Jamaicans at the magazine like Joan Clarke and Natalie Huie who were always in my camp.”
“By the 1990s, Essence was no longer using models on their cover on a consistent basis so for them to call me again was truly special. I remember the shoot was great. As I said, it was like working with family so I was very comfortable. I remember the make-up artist Reggie Wells saying to me 'come girl, let's get this' . He was also very fascinated with my lips and did everything to accentuate them. I was also surprised that they were calling me; after all, I was 35 years old,” said Laing.
According to Laing, this 1990 issue is said to have had the largest circulation in Essence history.
“I think every Jamaican, at home and abroad, bought a copy. You know how we are when it comes to giving support for another. I was so honoured to be able to represent my country in this way. I also proved to me that what is for you no man can take it away. This, for me, was God showing off. He was just proving that with everything that was happening to me at the time, he was in my corner… God's grace and mercy at work,” she said.
Laing returned as a teacher of English language and literature a few years ago, but still shares her skills as a tutor. The popular Althea Laing Grooming sessions will continue this summer. Due to COVID-19, she will now offer the course online starting July 12. The module includes personal development, communication skills, social graces and etiquette as well as goal setting are among the areas she covers. She is also preparing for the release of her book later this year.
“The title is still being worked on but it's all coming together nicely. It is with the publishers at this time so it will be ready to hit the streets by the end of the year,” she noted.
In addition to the Laing cover from 1990, the cover from August 1992 featuring Pulse model Juline Samuels and American actor Gary Dourdan was also highlighted.
A number of other Jamaican models have been listed by Essence in its cover Hall of Fame as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. These include Pulse models Nicola Vassell, and Lois Samuels. Jamaican-born, Canada-based model Stacey McKenzie is also on the list as well as actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who is of Jamaican heritage.
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